Impaired function of the Tie-2 receptor contributes to vascular leakage and lethality in anthrax

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Publisher: National Academy of Sciences

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The anthrax lethal toxin (LT) enters host cells and enzymatically cleaves MAPKKs or MEKs. How these molecular events lead to death from anthrax remains poorly understood, but published reports suggest a direct effect of LT on vascular permeability. We have found that LT challenge in mice disrupts signaling through Tie-2, a tonically activated receptor tyrosine kinase in the endothelium. Genetic manipulations favoring Tie-2 activation enhanced interendothelial junctional contacts, prevented vascular leakage, and promoted survival following a lethal dose of LT. Cleavage of MEK1/2 was necessary for LT to induce endothelial barrier dysfunction, and activated Tie-2 signaled through the uncleaved fraction of MEKs to prevent LT’s effects on the endothelium. Finally, primates infected with toxin-secreting Bacillus anthracis bacilli developed a rapid and marked imbalance in the endogenous ligands that signal Tie-2, similar to that seen in LT-challenged mice. Our results show that B. anthracis LT blunts signaling through Tie-2, thereby weakening the vascular barrier and contributing to lethality of the disease. Measurement of circulating Tie-2 ligands and manipulation of Tie-2 activity may represent future prognostic and therapeutic avenues for humans exposed to B. anthracis.